There is quite an art to dining in Italy. And I mean dining in the formal sense, so not just a meal that you quickly prepare and eat after a long day at work, but an actual sit-down, take-your-time dinner, for celebratory reasons or when dining out with friends. In Italy it’s not just starter, main, and dessert. No no, it’s far more elaborate than that.
- Aperitivo – Usually a drink such as Prosecco or Spumante. At times, it can be accompanied by small bites, such as nuts or olives.
- Antipasto – In general, these are cold dishes, such as charcuterie (prosciutto, mortadella, bresaola, etc.). Typical antipasti are Bruschetta, Panzanella and Insalata Caprese.
Note: antipasto is the single, and antipasti the plural form).
- Primo – The actual first course is a hot dish, without meat. Think of Risotto, or Pasta.
- Secondo – The “main” course, includes meat or fish. The recipes are mostly simple, also depending on what preceded the course. For instance, if the primo was rich in cream, the secondo will be a lot less heavy.
- Contorno – Focuses on vegetables, although not as a salad. Served in a seperate dish, never together with the meat or fish from the secondo. It is a course to basically celebrate the quality of the vegetables, and can be hot or cold.
- Insalata – This course could be omitted, depending on whether leavy greens were used in the contorno, otherwise a fresh salad could be served.
- Formaggi e frutta – Just like the insalata, this course is not always included in the meal. It is, as the name already points out, a course to serve some of Italy’s cheeses, along with seasonal fruits.
- Dolce – The dessert. Think of recipes such as Tiramisu or Zabaglione(coming later this month!).
- Caffè – To end the meal, Italians drink espresso. So definitely no cappuccino!
- Digestivo – Can be served alongside the caffè. Liquors like grappa and limoncello (also coming this month!). Great cookies that are even more perfect when dipped in a digestivo, are Biscotti!
Like all traditional menus, there is a clear build up and break down of the recipes. Starting with cold food, you will slowly get more heavier foods, and warmer foods (which generally make you feel fuller than the cold ones). After the main course, or the secondo in the case of Italians, the heaviness of the dishes decreases, until you end with the digestivo, which aims to ease the digestion of the previous courses.
Now you know what to make when you’re in the mood for Italian (and when are we not, am I right?), and what the structure of your next Italian dinner could be!
For the ultimate dining experience, I would advise you to listen to the soothing voice of Paolo Conte…